060. Two Suitcases and a Backpack

tldr: … and nothing else

Two years ago, on a sweltering Fresno summer night, I was awake. It was 3:13am, and I was awake. This isn’t uncommon for me. I’m a bit of an insomniac, especially during the summer, but this was one of the rare nights when I actually do things. These sorts of nights can entail any number of random shenanigans, like cleaning my room, beating Hollow Knight, or beginning, completing, and putting away an 1000 piece puzzle. But this July night was a bit more solemn. I pulled out the two grey suitcases my mom got me the day I got into MIT (“I don’t care where you go to school but you need to use these suitcases to get there,” she said kindly.), and attempted to pack up my room.

I wasn’t planning to leave that night. I just wanted to prepare myself. I myself put anything I could possibly want to take with me into these suitcases, just so that I would know how many things I would have to leave behind; Trinkets scattered across a desk gathering dust, and books I likely wouldn’t have on a bookshelf for years to come. So I got to packing.

At the end of the night, at 3:13am, I looked at my accomplishment, and wrote the following:

“I realized that my entire life fit into this one large suitcase.
I don’t know how to feel about this.”
July 22, 2020

Not even over the 50 pound limit for checked luggage, and without the use of vacuum seal bags, everything fit. I looked around my room for something more. Something must’ve been missing. Some childhood stuffed animal I couldn’t live without, or a signed book by a random author. I found nothing.

Nearly a month later, I moved to New York. And still, after a month of buying things for the trip, everything fit into two suitcases and a backpack, and nothing else. Well, except for a pair of bright yellow Doc Martens thrown haphazardly into my mom’s carry on in the hour between me asking her if she would fly with me across the country, and the flight into Newark.

She stayed with my in New York for two days before flying back to Fresno. Just long enough to help me unpack, and just short enough that her job wouldn’t fire her. Then, she booked an Uber, went out the front door of the apartment, and I was alone in a house I hadn’t grown up in.

It was terrifying, but I kept telling myself: so is college.

Six months later, on Valentine’s Day, against all odds and all doubt, my apartment-mates and I were packing up the cars to move to MIT. And I, was a bit of a fool. Over the six months I had accumulated little Amazon boxes of trinkets and notebooks and various other school supplies, so when it came to packing to move to McCormick, I figured “why not reuse the boxes”?

Which is great, in theory. But three people putting all of their college belongings into one decent sized van plus a tiny Prius-like car is not the easiest task. Fun fact: smaller boxes do not mean more compact storage. This isn’t a game of Tetris. In fact, putting my items into tiny Amazon boxes if anything made things slightly worse than if I had just thrown them into an XL-UHaul box (live and learn and then tell others in a random blogpost). We somehow managed to squeeze everyone into a seat, and left.

Four hours later, we had passed through numerous states (which is weird, given that that is the amount of time it takes to go from Fresno to LA but I digress), and arrived at MIT. When we got here, I didn’t quite notice at first. It just felt like Cambridge. But then signs that said MIT started popping up on inconspicuous buildings. We weren’t on campus, and then we were.

The car stopped by McCormick first, given it was closest to the first year check-in at Kresge, and from the van I unloaded:

  • The same two suitcases,
  • A large box of various dorm-room necessities I didn’t know I needed,
  • A tiny box of mugs from my hometown (with “DON’T DROP, FUCKING FRAGILE” scrawled on the box in sharpie),
  • a backpack,
  • and nothing else.

I hugged my apartment-mates goodbye, and went inside. COVID was a weird time. I hardly saw them again the next semester, let alone the semesters that followed. Given I had to quarantine for a week upon arrival, I immediately unpacked all of my stuff. After all, it’s not like I was going to do REX. I took out the books, put the bedding on the bed, poured myself a cup of coffee, and badabing badaboom I was done.

I looked around the room and it felt empty. I think this is semi-common when it comes to West Campus dorms. There weren’t paintings on the walls or random furniture left from alum of years past. It was quiet. All I could think was: “In four months, I need to move again.” So I didn’t buy a rug, or fairy lights, or a clock. Everything I brought, was everything I had.

I, like my room, felt impermanent.

That’s the one thing I don’t like about college. It feels like my life is on hold. Every nine months I’m moving to summer housing, or into a new room, or to a new state. I look forward to feeling permanent. But for now, I don’t.

Four months later, I put all of my belongings into two XL Storage Squad boxes (the best 70$ I will ever spend), two suitcases, a backpack, and nothing else.

Sophomore year at Next House annoyingly didn’t feel any different. I hardly used my room for anything besides sleep. My room was cold and empty. But slowly I continued to gather more things. I got four more mugs, an actual semi-collection of winter clothes, two brassrats, a suit for ring delivery, and so many notebooks. My room was feeling less hollow, and though I don’t think I ever truly “settled in”, I still liked being there.

Then, nine months later, I left. I packed up significantly more boxes (turns out I *don’t* need two suitcases of clothes to live at home for a month), filled with comforters, sheets, winter coats, hangers, puzzles, and books. I loaded a total of seven medium/small UHaul boxes and my suit into a UHaul, and moved them to storage at ADP (a frat I stayed in this summer). All I had left in my room was my suitcase (just one this time, with the other inside like a boring Russian doll), and I went home.

Last Friday, I moved into my new room at Next– conveniently right across the room I stayed in last year. But this time it felt different. I immediately unpacked all my boxes, hung up clothes on hangers, and threw my bedding into the wash (to sleep on freshly washed sheets– highly recommended to start the year off).

And for the first time, I sat at my desk, and started writing this blog. My room now feels like a home. A place I will get to stay for the next two years. A room I will invite friends to PSET in. I looked around the room, and could picture something more. So, I proceeded to order a nice fluffy rug and a rolling cart for coffee supplies, hung up a lesbian flag, and just felt so much more comfortable existing in an impermanent state. I have an ever-growing list of items I want to buy for my room soon (P.S. if you’re reading this and want to buy me dorm stuff,,,,,,, let me know @ random Facebook friends).

I no longer want to just use my room for sleeping. I want memories with friends, and to do work at my desk, and to start existing somewhere. And sure, in nine months, I’m going to need to figure out what the hell to do with all my crap for the summer, but it’s worth the boxes. It’s worth the Amazon shipping. It’s worth putting in the time and effort to have something more than two suitcases and a backpack.

“How strange, and how lovely it is, to be a part of anything at all.”
-John Green

I have Room 253, and if nothing else, that will be enough.

Published by Paige Bright

Hi- my name is Paige Alexandria Bright. I am a rising junior at MIT interested in mathematics and philosophy. I have been writing this blog since the beginning of COVID. Lets see where this goes.

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